Josef and Anni and Ruth and Ray

David Zwirner is pleased to present Josef and Anni and Ruth and Ray as the inaugural exhibition at the gallery's 34 East 69th Street location. Featuring work by Josef Albers, Anni Albers, Ruth Asawa, and Ray Johnson—all of whom were at Black Mountain College in North Carolina in the late 1940s—this exhibition will explore both the aesthetic and personal dialogue between these artists during their Black Mountain years and beyond; and will include a number of works exchanged amongst the group, in addition to a selection of key compositions influenced by their time there.


Josef and Anni Albers arrived at Black Mountain College in 1933, both having studied and subsequently taught at the Bauhaus for nearly a decade. It was through the Alberses that the pedagogy of the famed German art school, which espoused ideals of radical experimentation and an open interchange of ideas, was imported and adapted in their new setting. As Asawa recalls, Josef Albers would open his Basic Design course by saying, "Open your eyes and see. My aim is to make you see more than you want to. I am here to destroy all your prejudices. If you already have a style don't bring it with you. It will only be in the way"—in essence paraphrasing the aesthetic philosophy that came to define Black Mountain College as a progressive and avant-garde institution in those years. Johnson arrived as student in 1945, and Asawa subsequently in 1946—both quickly availing themselves of the Alberses's guidance, which was particularly unexpected in the case of Johnson, whose nontraditional approach contrasted with the older artists' formal rigor.


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34 East 69th Street
New York



Special event

Guided tour with Nicholas Fox Weber, Executive Director, The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation: Saturday, October 28, 11 AM


Anni Albers
Ray Johnson
Josef and Anni Albers at Black Mountain College, 1949. Photo: Theodore Dreier. Courtesy The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation.

Featuring archival photography and interviews with former students, teachers, and historians, Fully Awake: Black Mountain College (2008) is a documentary film by Cathryn Davis Zommer and Neeley Dawson exploring the development of a unique experiment in arts education. With a radical approach to creative learning espoused by Josef and Anni Albers, Black Mountain College provided a formative environment for its students, among them Ruth Asawa and Ray Johnson.

Anni Albers (1899-1994) was a textile artist, designer, printmaker, and educator known for her graphic wall hangings, weavings, and designs. Albers (then Annelise Fleischmann) enrolled at the Bauhaus in 1922 and was assigned to the weaving workshop before joining the faculty in 1929. Four years later, Anni and her husband Josef Albers emigrated to North Carolina, where she established the weaving program at Black Mountain College.

Anni Albers, date unknown. Courtesy The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation.
Josef Albers, date unknown. Photo: Jon Naar. Courtesy The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation.

Josef Albers (1888-1976) is considered one of the most influential abstract painters of the twentieth century, as well as an important designer and educator. Having enrolled in 1920, Albers joined the Bauhaus faculty in 1922, and began teaching design a year later. In 1933, Albers accepted an invitation to establish the art education program at Black Mountain College, where he taught courses in design, drawing, color, and painting until 1949.

Ruth Asawa (1926-2013), an influential sculptor, devoted activist, and tireless advocate for arts education, is best known for her extensive body of hanging wire sculptures begun in the late 1940s. Born in California to Japanese immigrants, Asawa enrolled at Black Mountain College in 1946, where she was taught by Josef Albers, Buckminster Fuller, and Merce Cunningham, among others, embracing her own vocation as an artist.

Ruth Asawa holding a Form-Within-Form Sculpture, 1952. Photo: Imogen Cunningham © 2017 Imogen Cunningham Trust. Artwork © Estate of Ruth Asawa.
Ray Johnson painting with Calm Center hanging in background, c. 1948-1951. Photographer unknown.

Ray Johnson (1927-1995) studied at Black Mountain College from 1945-1948. In 1949, Johnson moved to New York City with fellow Black Mountain associates Richard Lippold, John Cage, and Morton Feldman. Johnson is best known for his intricate and complex collages and his mail art project, The New York Correspondance [sic] School, which used the postal system as a distribution system outside the commercial art world.

Josef Albers teaching, Black Mountain College, c. 1948. Photographer unknown. Courtesy The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation.

Anni Albers: Notebook 1972–1980 is a facsimile of the only known notebook compiled by the artist. This previously unpublished document follows Albers's progression as a draftsman and includes intricate drawings related to her large body of graphic work, as well as studies for the late knot drawings. With an afterword by Brenda Danilowitz, Chief Curator of The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation. Forthcoming from David Zwirner Books

Anni Albers: Notebook 1970–1980
Ruth Asawa surrounded by her sculptures, November, 1954. Photo: Nat Farbman.

"It was [Josef] Albers who taught us how to think modernly. And not in the old way . . .  I think that Black Mountain gave you the right to do anything you wanted to do. And then you put a label on it afterwards."—Ruth Asawa, from an interview with Asawa, Albert Lanier, and Mark Johnson by Paul Karlstrom, June 21-July 5, 2002.

"[Black Mountain College] turned out to be a very interesting place because it gave us  freedom to build up our own work . . . It goes back to imagination and invention . . . I tried to put my students at the point of zero."—Anni Albers, from an interview by Sevim Fesci, July 5, 1968.

Josef Albers
Leaf Study III, c. 1940
Ray Johnson
Untitled (Moticos with Red Ground), 1958. Courtesy Ray Johnson Estate.

"Lately, more than two decades since Johnson's death, both the scholarship and the curatorial activity plumbing his vast, multifaceted oeuvre have gathered considerable momentum . . . Zwirner's uptown exhibition focuses on the creative and personal dialogues that developed between the Alberses, as artist-instructors, and their younger, student colleagues, Asawa and Johnson."


Read more in Hyperallergic

The gallery's third New York location at 34 East 69th Street is now open. Featuring works by Josef and Anni Albers, Ruth Asawa, and Ray Johnson, the first exhibition explores the influence of Black Mountain College, a unique experiment in arts education where these artists met in the late 1940s.


The uptown gallery will present one to two historical exhibitions each year in addition to special projects and private viewings.

Photo: Jason Schmidt